Archives For Newt Gingrich

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On Wednesday, Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich participated in a conference call to conservative Christian supporters. In a statistical tie with fellow contender Mitt Romney in the upcoming Florida primary, Gingrich is trying to win the support of as many evangelicals and religious conservatives as possible, a demographic that Romney has had a hard time winning over. During the call, which had around 1000 participants, and was moderated by Jim “Cracking Da Vinci’s Code” Garlow, Gingrich called same-sex marriage a “fundamental violation of our civilization” that illustrates the “rise of paganism” in the United States.

“It’s pretty simple: marriage is between a man and a woman. This is a historic doctrine driven deep into the Bible, both in the Old Testament and in the New Testament, and it’s a perfect example of what I mean by the rise of paganism. The effort to create alternatives to marriage between a man and a woman are perfectly natural pagan behaviors, but they are a fundamental violation of our civilization.”

Gingrich also doubled down on earlier statements by saying during the call that “a lot of what surrounds us today is paganism,” drawing parallels to Christianity during ancient Rome. In Gingrich’s mind secularism and paganism seem to be one and the same, a force that joins Islam in a two-pronged “war” against Christianity. You can download and listen to the entire conference call, here.

Newt Gingrich has got your nose.

Newt Gingrich has got your nose. Photo: New York Magazine

I have two responses to Gingrich’s comments, and this conference call. First, for a historian, Gingrich seems to have a shaky grasp on the history of marriage. Marriage has been an ever-shifting thing, practiced in a number of ways, and Christians did not always treat it as a holy condition. I’m certainly happy to agree that Pagans are open towards creating “alternatives” to the modern rigid constructions of this social contract envisioned by conservative Christians, but I part ways with candidate Gingrich on the idea that this is a “violation” of Western civilization. Perhaps he should remember that is was the “pagans” he seems to have no trouble vilifying that invented Western civilization.

My second response has to do with Florida. While it may seem like good politics to construct religious straw men that Christians can alternatively fear and revile, the state is far more diverse than many give it credit for. Florida has thriving Pagan, Hindu, Haitian Vodou, Santeria/Lukumi, and other non-Christian/non-Abrahamic faith communities. What could be beneficial in a primary might come back to harm you in a general election. I doubt that Gingrich much cares about this, but future politicians should. As I said not too long ago at The Washington Post:

America’s religious diversity isn’t simply a stock phrase to pull out when describing the virtues of our country. According to the Pew Forum, 16.1 percent of Americans claim no formal religion, while another 2.3 percent are part of religious tradition outside the Christian-Jewish-Muslim monotheistic paradigm. Those aren’t insignificant numbers, and they put the often lumped-together “other/unaffiliated” category on a statistical par with evangelical and mainline Protestants. Despite this, moral debates are almost always framed along a left-right Christian axis; Rick Warren gets to interview Obama and McCain, while Hindus, Pagans, Buddhists, and practitioners of indigenous traditions rarely get to ask questions on a national stage.  Gov. Johnson’s courage in talking to religious minorities might have been driven by a modicum of desperation in getting his message out, but it should be seen as a harbinger of what campaigning to religious groups will be like in the future.”

Declaring yourself in de facto opposition to America’s religious diversity and secular government should automatically disqualify you from running our executive branch. Our president is the duly elected representative of all its citizens, not just its Christian citizens. Assembling campaign faith coalitions that speak to one very narrow idea of religion alienates instead of unifies, and when that coalition claims that electing anyone outside their boundaries will bring about the end of civilization, it sends a dangerous signal. Americans shouldn’t be worrying about “Pagan behaviors.” Instead, they should worry about the “Christian behaviors” of Newt Gingrich and those like him.

So, it has come down to this. The Republican Party, the unchallenged standard-bearer for conservative Christianity in America since Ronald Reagan was president, seems to be deciding between a sometimes-moderate, formerly pro-choice, Mormon, and an ethics-challenged serial philanderer with unfavorability numbers that would make any politician blanch, in their presidential primaries. The candidates who seemed to bank their support on evangelicals and conservative Christians: Michele Bachmann, Rick Perry, and Rick Santorum, have seen their campaigns run out of steam, dismantle in a stream of never-ending gaffes, or slowly fade into the background. It’s enough to make one wonder if the power of conservative Christianity in the United States is waning. Two recent articles at The New Republic debate this very question. The first, from Michael Kazin, argues that we are experiencing the twilight of the Christian Right.

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich

“…contrary to the whims of lazy pundits, the waning of enthusiasm for battling over “social issues” is not due to higher concerns about jobs, the deficit, and the economic future [...] Put simply, the Christian Right is getting old. According to the largest and most recent study we have of American religion and politics, by Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell, almost twice as many people 18 to 29 confess to no faith at all as adhere to evangelical Protestantism. Young people who have attended college, a growing percentage of the population, are more secular still. Catholicism has held its own only because the Church keeps gathering in newcomers from Latin America, Africa, and Asia, few of whom are likely to show up at a Santorum rally. To their surprise, Putnam and Campbell discovered that conservative preachers infrequently discuss polarizing issues from the pulpit. Sermons about hunger and poverty far outnumber those about homosexuality or abortion. On any given Sunday, just one group of Christians routinely grapples with divisive political issues: black Protestants, the most reliably Democratic constituency of them all.”

Kazin concludes that if conservative Christians “hope to transform our pluralistic, profane culture into a new Jerusalem”, they will have to “find new holy battles to wage.” So are the culture wars essentially over? Are Christian conservatives no longer kingmakers in the Republican Party? Not so fast, says Ed Kilgore, who notes that while the Christian Right has botched attempts to control this election cycle, news of their demise is greatly exaggerated.

“It is true that they have been less conspicuous in this campaign, and less united in candidate preferences. But if they haven’t been able to pull their muscle behind a single candidate, that’s not a sign that they are on the wane—it’s a sign that, as far as the Republican Party is concerned, they have already won. Look at the potential nominees: Unlike 2008, no candidate in the field is pro-choice by any definition. Only Ron Paul seems reluctant to enact a national ban on same-sex marriage. Newt Gingrich, Rick Perry, Rick Santorum. and Herman Cain have been vocal in fanning the flames of Islamophobia; again, only Paul has bothered to dissent to any significant degree.”

Kilgore points out that the fight over abortion, a key issue for Christian conservatives, is escalating at the state level, not diminishing, and that a younger generation of culture warriors, some more radical than their elders, are just beginning to come into view.” Indeed, if there’s been one new phenomenon this year within Christian Right circles, its been the emergence of controversial neo-Pentecostal spiritual warriors into the mainstream. Journalist and author Jeff Sharlet has long argued against assertions that the Christian Right will fade away after a bad election or two, or because the current crop of leaders are growing old. That they have been a part of our spiritual makeup since the beginning.

“We don’t like to consider the possibility that they are not newcomers to power but returnees, that the revivals that have been sweeping America with generational regularity since its inception are not flare-ups but the natural temperature of the nation. We can’t conceive of the possibility that the dupes, the saps, the fools—the believers—have been with us from the very beginning, that their story about what America once was and should be seems to some great portion of the population more compelling, more just, and more beautiful than the perfunctory processes of secular democracy. Thus we are at a loss to account for this recurring American mood.”

So should we worry about the Religious Right? In so far as they battle against the rights and freedoms of religious minorities, yes, we should. Bad candidates and legislative setbacks don’t erase generations of grassroots organizing from the pulpits, and it would be folly to believe otherwise. Until demographics finally hit that magical tipping point, and conservative Christianity becomes simply one voice among many, vigilance is the watchword. As for Newt Gingrich’s ethical problems, we should never forget that evangelicals love a good forgiven sinner.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

On Monday Republican South Carolina Representative Tim Scott, at a South Carolina Tea Party conference that also included presidential hopefuls Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich, made a rather dubious assertion concerning religion in America.

Rep. Tim Scott in SC: "The greatest minority under assault today are Christians. No doubt about it."
@mviser
Matt Viser

Christians are the “greatest minority under assault today?” Where does that come from? While it’s true that “the religious beliefs and practices of Americans do not fit neatly into conventional categories,” the statistical pie, no matter how you slice it, shows Christianity is the dominant form of religion in the United States. In addition, Christianity remains the world’s largest religion, with nearly 37% of the world’s Christians making their home in the Americas. Now, are there countries where Christianity is an endangered minority? Of course, but the United States is not even close to being one. Yet time and again we hear a persecution narrative that paints Christians in North America as though they were living in Iran or North Korea. Conservative Christians have painted the Obama administration as waging a “war on religion,” with figures like New Gingrich decrying the “bigotry” of the current president. That’s nothing new for Gingrich, who claimed  in 2009 that Christians were “surrounded” by “paganism”.

“I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

So it seems we really need to start clearly defining terms like “minority” and “persecution” when we are talking about religion in this country.  Consult any dictionary or encyclopedia, and they’ll tell you that a minority faith is smaller than the majority faith in a country or region. In South Carolina, home to Rep. Scott, 45% of residents are evangelical Christians, 18% are mainline protestant Christians, and 8% are Catholics. Guess what that adds up to? You guessed it! A majority! Catholicism taken alone outnumbers all non-Christian faiths in South Carolina combined. Yet we are led to believe that it is Christians who are under “assault.” As I’ve said before, Christianity has a historical and theological persecution narrative, which can unfortunately become something of a complex that distorts reality,  instead of calling its adherents towards a witness of tolerance and coexistence for all.

Republican Rep. Tim Scott and Newt Gingrich in November, 2011. Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images.

Republican Rep. Tim Scott and Newt Gingrich in November, 2011. Photo by Richard Ellis/Getty Images.

If Rep. Scott were clear-eyed on the issue of religion he’d see which religious groups were truly struggling in his state. He’d see a Wiccan ostracized and harassed when she objected to sectarian government prayer (and later held up as an example of Christians being denied their freedom of religion), he’d see Pagans in local interfaith groups fighting to be recognized as something other than “other,” a place where any religion can get a religiously-themed license plate, so long as it isn’t a Wiccan wanting one. Despite this, we are forced through the looking glass into an inverted world where the increase of freedom and rights for a non-Christian group somehow decreases their rights and freedoms. It’s as if anything short of total hegemony were oppression.

Yesterday, in addition to it being Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it was also National Religious Freedom Day, the anniversary of when the Virginia General Assembly adopted Thomas Jefferson‘s landmark Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom. That statute provided the framework for religious liberty in the United States, ensuring free exercise for all citizens.

“Be it enacted by General Assembly that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief, but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”

As Jefferson himself said, “neither Pagan nor Mahamedan nor Jew ought to be excluded from the civil rights of the Commonwealth because of his religion.” So even if Scott’s nightmare scenario were true, if Christianity were shrunk to the size of Paganism, Hinduism, or Buddhism in America, they, like us, would still have the secular protections of State to save us from the worst excesses of religious majoritarianism. If Scott, and Gingrich, and other politicians truly believe that Christianity is under threat, all the more reason to vigorously defend religious liberty, and the separation of Church and State, lest the tyranny of a imaginary non-Christian majority sweep into power.

It’s been a crazy year so-far in the race to see who will become the Republican candidate for President of the United States in 2012. It seems like just about every candidate, with a few notable exceptions, is getting their 15 minutes of “frontrunner” status before the seeming inevitability of Mitt Romney reasserts itself again. I’ve covered some of these candidates (and potential candidates) here, particularly when I’ve felt their flirtations with certain pernicious elements of the Religious Right had become problematic, and now its former Republican House Speaker Newt Gingrich’s turn.

Gingrich is currently enjoying some time in the sun, after a period when many (from across the political spectrum) thought his candidacy was doomed. While it remains to be seen if this latest “not-Mitt” will manage to stay afloat, an issue I’ll leave to the political pundit class, I do have one question for the former Speaker: are we still surrounded by “paganism”?

httpv://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gGm_tHINZGs

You see, back in 2009, Gingrich gave a speech to the Rock Church congregation in Virginia on “Rediscovering God in America,” it was there he gave the grim news for conservative-minded Christians.

“I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

Oh, and he invoked St. Paul during the speech to make sure we understood what he was talking about. These comments caused quite a  bit of conversation at the time, and I even wondered if Newt knew with whom he was getting into bed with.

“Maybe Gingrich, a recently converted Catholic, doesn’t realize the dog-whistle language he’s using. When you say “paganism” to these folks, it doesn’t merely mean secularists, or modern Pagans, or atheists, it also means Catholics, and any Christian who isn’t fully on-board with their mission of ‘religious supremacy’.”

There’s been some articles recently about how conservative Christians are now flocking to Gingrich, so will this mean he’ll double down on this kind of rhetoric, or will he maintain his largely secular-ish brand of conservatism? All I want to know is, are we still surrounded?

It seems I wasn’t the only one drawn to Newt Gingrich’s “surrounded by paganism” comment, other religion blogs have weighed in on the significance of that (and Mike Huckabee’s) talk at Rock Church in Virginia. We start with fellow Pagan blogger Gus diZerega, who wasn’t very happy with the idea that Pagans might not be fully American.

“Apparently from Newt’s perspective we Pagans are not Americans, for in his fatwa he warned Americans that they are surrounded by “Paganism.” … Three old white geezers giving their race and gender a bad name, speaking to a crowd that gives its religion a bad name.”

Meanwhile, another Beliefnet blogger, Rabbi Brad Hirschfield, suspects a bit of redirected anti-semitism.

“I am pretty certain that any time a non-follower describes any tradition, without at least the active presence of an actual believer or two, something bad is bound to happen. Any doubts? Think about how Judaism has been mangled over the centuries by non-Jews twisting it to meet their needs for a spiritual foil. My guess is that is what Newt was doing with paganism, and since it’s no longer acceptable in most quarters to do that with Judaism, he simply picked on another group which has fewer defenders. It was wrong to do to Jews, and it’s wrong to do to pagans.”

However, Bruce Wilson at Talk To Action sees something far more dangerous in Newt’s (and Huckabee’s) appearance at Rock Church than some lazy swipe at “paganism”.

“Leaders on the Christian right have been giving such speeches for decades, but the  two-day Rock Church conference was not business as usual. Rather, it showcased the rapid reconfiguration of the Christian right around the rising, highly militant but poorly understood charismatic wing of the new Christian right, a movement which includes both Ted Haggard and Sarah Palin.)”

Wilson goes on to look into Lou Engle (featured in “Jesus Camp”) , who presided over the event, and who has a long history of anti-abortion and anti-gay militancy (including providing a theological framework for the murder of doctors who perform abortions). It should surprise no-one that Engle has ties to C. Peter Wagner of the “Third Wave of the Holy Spirit”, with its emphasis on prayer-war and destroying the “Queen of Heaven” (who they see as the Virgin Mary of the Catholics, a major demon, and the Goddess of the Pagans all rolled into one).

If Gingrich, Huckabee, and other Republicans are nurturing these folks as the new core of a revived “Christian Right”, we better keep our eyes open. As Wilson points out, these Christians have an entirely different unifying rallying call.

“…the emerging face of a new type of fundamentalism in America that is multiethnic, multiracial and, because of that, can appear pseudo-progressive but which is in many ways farther right than traditional fundamentalism. The new axis of bigotry is no longer defined by racial and ethnic distinctions. It is religious supremacy.”

Maybe Gingrich, a recently converted Catholic, doesn’t realize the dog-whistle language he’s using. When you say “paganism” to these folks, it doesn’t merely mean secularists, or modern Pagans, or atheists, it also means Catholics, and any Christian who isn’t fully on-board with their mission of “religious supremacy”. They are just as proud of (allegedly) killing Mother Teresa as they are of (again, allegedly) blinding and giving cancer to a Wiccan with their prayers. Gingrich haphazardly invoking the spectre of “paganism” might make for good jokes, but it’s no laughing matter to the prayer warriors at Rock Church.

Fellow Pagans, it looks like our efforts to slowly take over the nation through secularism have been laid bare by speculative fiction writer (and former House Speaker) Newt Gingrich. On Friday, Gingrich, while giving a three-hour long lecture on “Rediscovering God in America”, uttered this warning to the Rock Church congregation in Virginia.

“I am not a citizen of the world. I am a citizen of the United States because only in the United States does citizenship start with our creator. [...] I think this is one of the most critical moments in American history. We are living in a period where we are surrounded by paganism.”

Mike Huckabee, who was also speaking at the event, then assured the Christian audience that God, not voters and massive fiscal contributions from the Mormons, defeated gay marriage in California.

“Huckabee told the audience he was disturbed to hear President Barack Obama say during his speech in Cairo, Egypt, on Thursday that one nation shouldn’t be exalted over another. “The notion that we are just one of many among equals is nonsense,” Huckabee said. The United States is a “blessed” nation, he said, calling American revolutionaries’ defeat of the British empire “a miracle from God’s hand.” The same kind of miracle, he said, led California voters to approve Proposition 8, which overturned a state law legalizing same-sex marriages.”

We stand exposed! And the God of the Christians is fixing elections! Luckily, the atheists appear to be unconcerned and are still with us in our Gingrich/nation-surrounding efforts.

“There are worse things to be surrounded by. People who support Gingrich and Huckabee, for example.”

As for God’s hand in California? Simply a setback. We were too busy surrounding Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, Maine, and New Hampshire at the time (there are a lot of Pagans in New England, obviously). But our forces are currently surrounding California and the Pacific Northwest, so look keep a close watch on the next couple of election cycles (it’s one of the reasons I’m moving to Oregon in July). So though Gingrich is on to us, don’t worry, most people think he’s nuts anyway. Now back to my secure Pagan bunker to prepare for tonight’s Tony Awards (a celebration of all things gay and pagan).